New research highlights dangers of modified crops / GM maize trials useless for working farmers / Links for Tractors and Trolleys (14/10/2003)

*Good photos from Tractors and Trolleys
More links - item 2 below

"FARM, the Independent Farmers Union, today revealed that the key data that farmers need from the Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of GM maize is missing, rendering them worthless.

This revelation comes on top of recent news that the validity of the trials has been compromised by the banning of Atrazine." (item 4)

1. New research highlights dangers of modified crops
2.Links for Tractors and Trolleys
3.Civil unrest threat on GM
1.New research highlights dangers of modified crops
Friends of the Earth Europe


London, Brussels - Devastating new research published by the UK Government shows that pollen from genetically modified (GM) oilseed rape travels six times further then previously documented and if not controlled can contaminate non-GM crops for generations. Further findings indicate that some GM crops could make birds such as the skylark extinct within 20 years.

The UK Government has published the results of four different projects
(http://www.defra.gov.uk/news/2003/031013b.htm) which show that:

* Bees can take oilseed rape pollen and pollinate with non-GM oilseed rape over a distance of 26 Km.

* If wild GM oilseed rape is not "rigorously controlled" then contamination would not "would not fall below 1% for16 years."

* Modelling indicates that the effects of introducing GM sugar beet could be "extremely severe, with a rapid decline, and extinction of the skylark within 20 years."

The findings are likely to intensify the debate over proposals to allow GMO contamination of conventional seed and the co-existence of GM, conventional and organic food production. Member states are due to vote on proposals to allow the contamination of seeds later this month.

Adrian Bebb of Friends of the Earth Europe said:

"This research shows that allowing GMO crops to be grown in Europe will be a recipe for disaster. Containing GM crops like oilseed rape is virtually impossible and will cause contamination for years to come. The co-existence between GM and conventional or organic farming is simply not possible. Furthermore the research shows that our wildlife is being put at an unnecessary risk with birds facing extinction. The public and the environment must come before the commercial interests of the biotech companies."

The UK announcement comes days before the results of some of the biggest and most controversial outdoor trials of GM crops are published (Thursday 16th October in London). Media reports have speculated that the trials will show that GM oilseed rape and GM beet damage biodiversity. [1]

Pete Riley FOE GM Senior campaigner +44 771 2843210 (mobile)

FOE London press office +44 207 566 1649

Adrian Bebb FOE Europe GM Campaigner +49 1609 490 1163 (mob)

Notes to editors

[1] The Farm Scale Evaluations (FSE) results will be presented at 10.30 (UK time) on Thursday 16th October and also published on the UK Government website http://www.defra.gov.uk/environment/gm/fse/index.htm

The Farm Scale Evaluations of GM crops were commissioned by the UK Government in 1999 following intense public hostility and concern from its own wildlife advisors about the effects of introducing GM herbicide-resistant traits. The crops trialed were Bayer's oilseed rape, maize and fodder beet, and Monsanto's sugar beet. All crops are modified to be resistant to the companies' own herbicide. The biotech industry must legally forward the results of the trials to the European country where  they have made an application to market the crop. For the oilseed rape and sugar beet this is Belgium, the fodder beet Denmark, the sugar beet also Germany and the maize France.

The trials were highly controversial creating anger throughout communities in the UK.  In particular there was no obligation to protect neighbouring farmers or beekeepers from GM pollution or to listen to the views of local people. As a result the trials were unwelcome and many GM plants were uprooted by local people and campaigners. In addition Friends of the Earth discovered GM pollen in beehives 4.5km from a trial. Subsequently beekeepers had to move their hives 6 miles (9.6km) from FSE sites.

Earlier this year Friends of the Earth published a new report highlighting the problems in the design of the trials and accused them of being politically driven.

The main findings of the report included:

o Ecologically significant differences between GM and non-GM crops may be missed because the experiment does not have sufficient statistical power.

o Monitoring of important soil organisms was dropped because of money and time constraints. Similarly, rare arable plants were excluded because of time constraints.

o Advice on the use of weed killer on the GM crops was given by the biotech companies who developed the technology, leading to concerns that the GM crops may have been managed to maximise biodiversity whilst ignoring the final yield.

o Evidence that in the United States additional herbicides are used to achieve the required level of weed control in maize crops has been overlooked, meaning the maize results could be irrelevant.

Last week, several reports in the UK press highlighted possible outcomes of the British research programme. According to the daily newspaper the Guardian - which claims to have spoken to scientists involved - the research will show that GM oilseed rape and sugar beet damages the environment. The damage to biodiversity is so serious that the UK government is reportedly already considering a ban on GM oilseed rape and GM sugar beet.
2.Links to Tractors and Trolleys protest:

Good photos from Tractors and Trolleys
Farmer's anti-GM tractor trek
BBC News Online
Monday, 6 October, 2003

Tractors & Trolleys website

Pilgrims' Progress
Daily Diary of 'GM Pilgrims' journeys to London from Scotland, Wales,
SouthWest etc.

Tractor farmer leads protest
BBC News Online
Monday, 13 October, 2003, 11:18 GMT 12:18 UK

GM activists parade in London
BBC News Online
Mon 13 Oct 2003

GM protesters to march over crops
The Scotsman
Mon 13 Oct 2003

GM Campaigners march ahead of trial results
Yahoo News
Monday October 13
3.Civil unrest threat on GM
 Protesters warn Government of more to come
Western Morning News, 14 October 2003

Westcountry campaigners against GM crops last night warned Tony Blair that he would provoke "civil unrest" if he pressed ahead with plans to allow the controversial crops to be grown in the UK.

Campaigners from the region joined a mass protest in Westminster yesterday just days before the Government reveals the results of its scientific trials into the environmental safety of GM crops.

Several thousand people are believed to have signed the "Green Gloves" pledge, committing themselves to taking part in, or supporting, direct action to dig up GM crops.

Mike Drummond, one of three campaigners who cycled to London from Totnes, in Devon, to highlight the protest, said he would be prepared to break the law if Tony Blair gives the go-ahead to the commercialisation of GM crops in the next few weeks.

Mr Drummond, 24, said: "If commercial growing goes ahead the crops will be pulled up. Breaking the law is a last resort but if I had to I would. If that is what it comes to and democratic pressure is not getting the message across then it will have to be done."

Fellow Totnes cyclist Liz Snook, who once faced charges of criminal damage over the destruction of £500,000-worth of GM crops at a trial site in Devon, said: "I will continue to pull up GM crops if necessary. Time after time it has been shown that there is a lawful excuse for the destruction of GM crops because they cause criminal damage to the crops of neighbouring farms.

"Despite all the evidence and the strength of public opinion I think the Government are quite stupid enough to allow the commercialisation of GM crops. Our message to them is that we are not having it and there will be civil unrest if they try."

Former Environment Minister Michael Meacher, who applauded Ms Snook, told the rally of around 700 protesters that they were winning the argument on GM. Mr Meacher cited the Government's economic report and scientific review on GM, both of which raised serious concerns about the technology. And he said that the recent public debate had shown that people were overwhelmingly opposed to GM crops.

He added: "This is the freedom movement in our country now. There is no more basic human right of people than to decide what food they are going to eat. I think we are well on the way to winning."  In a message to Mr Blair, he added: "You have told us Tony that you are listening. What we want to know is have you heard?"

On Thursday the results of the GM crop trials will be published. Reports already suggest that they will raise serious concerns about at least two of the three crops being tested. The Government is expected to make a decision on whether to allow GM crops to be grown by the end of the year.

Yesterday's colourful protest included stops at Downing Street, the headquarters of the National Farmers Union and the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where petitions against GM were handed in. The "tractors and trolleys" protest involved both farmers and consumers.

Somerset organic farmer Robert Mann drove his tractor to London to take part in the protest. Mr Mann said any decision to allow GM crops to be grown commercially could threaten his business.  He added: "It is good to see farmers and consumers working together on this. Farmers should do more and say more about this. There is no market for GM here - most people do not want it."

The Cornish flag was also flown at yesterday's demonstration. Rita Thompson, whose family hail from Redruth, was one of hundreds of protesters pushing a shopping trolley through the streets of central London. "We don't want GM food in Cornwall," she said. "It's as simple as that."

Keith Hatch, Friends of the Earth GM campaigner in the South West, said: "More than 1,000 people turned out for the Tractor and Trolley parade. We have had a very positive response and with some people dressed up as pantomime farmyard animals and music, there has really been a jovial atmosphere. This is a celebration of organic food and local food. The only person who doesn't seem to be listening is Tony Blair. There has been a massive show of support against GM and I think this shows that we are going to win the campaign."

Charlotte Oliver, a GM-free campaigner who cycled from Totnes to London for the parade, said: "It has been really successful. People have dressed up in the most amazing outfits, there were five tractors and about 200 trollies and I think it will make a big difference to the what the Government will now decide. Tony Blair is incredibly isolated on this issue."

Friends of the Earth South West regional campaigner Mike Birkin joined the parade by cycling to London from Land's End.  He said: "This is a really critical opportunity for us to put our views forward because the Government is likely to be making a decision about the future of GM in Britain over the next few weeks. We had to make as much noise as we could to make the Government understand just how much we do not want GM.

"By cycling from Land's End to London I was able to meet up with groups of farmers and different people who were unable to make it to the parade themselves. So by talking to them beforehand I was able to take their message to London for them.

"It has been a beautiful day and been a chance for everyone from all around the country to put forward their views about the future of food and farming. At this stage everything counts. It is very important for the Government to receive the petitions and Green Gloves reports that will then make them realise people are watching them and will be judging them on what they decide to do - votes really do count."
4.GM maize trials useless for working farmers
Farm Press Release

FARM, the Independent Farmers Union, today revealed that the key data that farmers need from the Farm Scale Evaluations (FSEs) of GM maize is missing, rendering them worthless.

The FSE trials were supposed to show how GM crops would perform under commercial conditions, but FARM reveals that because there was no attention paid to yield they cannot be considered to reflect normal commercial practice.

This revelation comes on top of recent news that the validity of the trials has been compromised by the banning of Atrazine.

The purpose of the trials was to discover whether the GM maize Chardon LL could be grown in a commercially viable manner without its associated herbicide (Glufosinate) causing more environmental damage than the herbicides which have been and would be used on conventional non-GM crops. But the trial has failed to provide farmers with the answers they need to make an informed decision about how GM maize would affect their business, because:

* No independent yield measurements were made.
* There was no independent calculation of its nutritional or economic value,
* No measurement of dry matter or starch or sugar levels.

John Sherrell, FARM founding member and South West dairy farmer, said "These trials are completely useless for working farmers. Not only have they been invalidated by the use of the now banned herbicide Atrazine, but they also provide no evidence of how these crops would perform under practical commercial conditions. It is amazing how the Government are trying to force farmers to grow these crops without providing the information farmers need."

The only measurements of Yield and Dry Matter for Chardon LL took place in the National Seed List trials where they were grown using only the more environmentally harmful Atrazine that is soon to be banned across the EU. As Chardon LL is designed to be used with herbicides based on Glufosinate (sold under the trade name Liberty), these figures are irrelevant and misleading.

Independent observers of the FSEs have reported low yields and fields full of weeds, raising suspicion that the GM crops were not managed to maximise yield but instead to maximise wildlife, thereby rendering the results irrelevant to farmers.

Brian Johnson, head of English Nature, expressed his concern in July 2002 that the decision to use Liberty was deliberately intended to distort the trials. This was also the focus of a Newsnight programme in June 2002.


For more information please contact Freddie Whitefield  0207 349 5833

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